A sacred flow, a stream of life. Tumultuous waves, torrential rain. A peaceful, still body, a wild and uncontrollable fall – water is all of these things, a source of life for everything that lives. Water is sacred to Native people because nothing can exist without it. Because of this, tribal leaders have said that people can pray while in water and have that act be as sacred as if they were in a sweat lodge. That means a person can be praying in the shower and those prayers will carry the same power as if they were praying in a sweat lodge.
My tribe is coastal, right on the bay of the Pacific Ocean. The waters threaten to erode the coastline, overtake the roads, and flood the reservation. Still, we will not move. A hundred and fifty years ago, the government attempted to force our ancestors to move from the coast of Washington to Yakima to become farmers. Fiercely determined, they refused to move. The ocean may be threatening, but it was also a source of life; we lived on its bounty for thousands of years. We would not go, and to this day, live near its shores.
The life inside of that water is also sacred to us. Historically, we hunted whale, went on canoe journeys, were clam schooners, caught crab, oysters, and other such fare. The shells of the coastline, such as abalone, were used for spiritual purposes such as smudging, or worn as jewelry. These living creatures, which sustained life, are now valued symbols with great spiritual meaning, and we still use the shells to adorn our regalia.
It is important to respect water and drink enough of it to keep your body healthy. As Native people in tune with the earth, we should be aware of the cycles of water, the importance of the thunder, the healing power of the rain.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) and minoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and two sisters–Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribal artist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Tribal language. Her favorite Native writers are Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie.